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Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo is an emotional rollercoaster

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Tove Lo
Johannes Helje

Even in an age where music has become immediately accessible to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and no need to wait for import CDs to make their way across the ocean and into Tower Records, it’s not uncommon for songs to find their American audience months or even years after breaking in Europe. In fact, some fairly sizeable hits have happened that way—Disclosure’s “Latch,” Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” for example.

There are a handful of such singles on the Hot 100 right now. Among them: Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High),” which this week reached No. 23, its highest point in the 13 weeks it’s spent on the chart. Lo initially self-released “Habits” in March of last year, after which it was picked up by a label and reissued in December. But it wasn’t until this past March, with the official release of a remix that the California duo Hippie Sabotage had originally posted online, that the song really took off. The remix hit the top 10 in a half-dozen countries in Europe and Oceania, and was picked up by a number of influential American pop blogs.

Stateside, it’s the arguably better original that’s charting, not the remix. Hippie Sabotage’s rework has a certain chill-room appeal, but it lacks the directness of Lo’s version, with its gut-punching one-two combo of broadly accessible hooks and emotionally raw lyrics. It shares a similar theme of getting through emotional struggles with copious amounts of chemical assistance, although Lo’s take is more bluntly honest: “Gotta stay high, all my life,” she sings, “to forget I’m missing you.”

Lo admits that there’s more than a little autobiography in her the song. “The thing that I love about pop music,” she says, “is the simplicity and the directness of it. For me, I love the mix of when it’s bittersweet in that sense. It can be a happy beat that you can dance to, but it still has to have a little bit of pain in there. Even if it’s a party song, if you’re having the best night of your life, it’s still going to end. You get kind of this desperation to not want something good to end. And that’s beautifully sad in a way. All that mixed together is what I want my songs to be. All of that at the same time. That’s kind of how I am—a roller coaster of emotions.”

The single has gotten a boost from a clever video that showcases Lo’s artfully complicated party-girl image as she recreates some of the debauchery in her lyrics, as well as some of its after-effects. Like the song itself, the clip’s decadence is actually pretty close to real life. “It was intense,” she says of the shooting. “I was in this harness with a camera that was kind of on an arm–it almost looks like a big strap-on, with the camera and the lights and everything. It was probably 10 kilos, pretty heavy to walk with for four days.”

“I had three of my good friends who were very nice and agreed to make out with me for a bit. It was fun. It was insane. We were drinking. Like, we were pretty wasted. So the crying scenes at the end were very easy because we were so exhausted. There was really no direction, they just got tons of material. I don’t ever want that unedited footage to get out there.”

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